Clanging pans, chopping onions, beeping ovens, slamming drawers, burning eyes, streaming tears, a humming dishwasher; all signs of our 6:00AM Thanksgiving wake-up call growing up. Every Thanksgiving eve my grandmother, who lived with us and was a baker by profession, would argue with my mom, “I won’t make noise.” My mom would counter with “There is no need to wake up at 6:00AM on Thanksgiving to start the stuffing!” Grams would hold her ground, “I like to get it done with. I won’t make any noise. I never do.” Fast forward to Thanksgiving morning, 6:00AM, coffees in hand, bags under our eyes, pre-parade TV on and sweet Grams finishing the stuffing.
The heart-throbs in the picture above are my grams (Agnes) and grandpa (Tubby) when they were puppies. I didn’t know my grandpa very well, but my Grams on the other hand, I grew very close to. I got my best qualities from her… stubbornness and the love to cook/bake. We lost Grams a year and a half ago now. The quiet on Thanksgiving morning is not as peaceful as one might think. During this time of thanks, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity for so many Thanksgiving mornings….early, early mornings…to spend with her and for her to share with me the secrets of my family’s cherished stuffing recipe.
It is a simple recipe but intricate, as it is composed of an ancient language that I will try to interpret for you today. A taste, pinch, bit, splash, handful, fistful, touch, titch…is how we speak when making stuffing. Like a lot of the recipes I cherish, it is all about the process, the feel and the taste. I have tried to break down amounts in the recipe below, but you can always tweak it.
This is a recipe that once people try it, they want more of it. This last weekend Chad and I hosted our annual “Franksgiving” (Friend Thanksgiving) where, every year, some of our closest friends come together to share a meal and to share thanks. For this gathering it is typically requested (or known) that I make the stuffing. It is a little piece of my family, my grams, that I can share with dear people in my life. For my grams, and now for me, this is what food is all about…even if it means getting up at 6:00AM on Thanksgiving morning.
This recipe is shared with you by permission of my mom. The new keeper of the secrets and teacher to the kiddos.
3 -4lbs Onions
1.5 sticks Butter
1.5 C Milk
Sugar to taste (1 fistful)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop 3-4lbs onions and combine them with butter in a large pan to start the caramelization process over medium to high heat. I give the range because I tend to like more onions in mine. It will also be about the feeling of the stuffing when combining it. Your first time making it, you might need to return to the stove and caramelize a few more just for the right consistency. This process takes time. Stir onions occasionally, making sure to stir in all the brown, fried deliciousness from the bottom of the pan into the rest of the onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Now comes the sugar. If you are using really sweet onions, you won’t need much, if at all. If your onions seemed pretty strong when you were cutting them, throw in a good fistful of sugar (or 2). Taste as you go along. The onions should be sweet and savory all at the same time. Timing of the sugar, salt and pepper is not key. Add as you see fit throughout the process.
When the onions are finished (could be 15-30 minutes), let them cool until they about room temperature. During the cooling process beat eggs into milk and set aside.
Combine cooled onions and stuffing bread* in large mixing bowl (you might need two if you do not have one big enough). Pour in half the egg/milk mixture and mix. The best way to mix is with your hands. There is a feeling to the stuffing so I recommend washing your hands and digging in. You want to squeeze the milk/egg into the bread and onion mixture. You want the bread to feel wet but not soggy. It should not necessarily be soft all the way through but it should stick to all of the other ingredients. Keep adding the milk/egg until the consistency seems right. I typically add all of it to mine, but it will depend on how dry your bread is.
At this point, taste the stuffing. I usually risk my life and try it raw. My grams would throw a little bit into the microwave and cook it for 15-30 seconds. You can add anything you see fit (more salt, pepper, sugar or milk). My grams would say that you want the stuffing flavorful especially if you are stuffing a turkey with it. This stuffing is best stuffed in a bird. The flavors from the meat combined with the delicious stuffing is…well…you might as well just give up the fight as you know you are going to eat your weight in stuffing.
You can cook the stuffing separately too. Put stuffing in a greased deep casserole dish. Heat oven to 350 and cook covered for 30 minutes. Uncover for the last 5-10 minutes if you want to brown the top (This was a must for my grams). She also would put the neck and the weird bird organs in the bottom of the pan when she cooked stuffing this way “for flavor.”
Serve hot. Be careful with this as you might become the one bringing the stuffing every year!
*I buy my stuffing bread at Target. They cut their day old bread up, toast it and package it oh-so-nicely. My grams collected bread ends and old bread all year long, would toast it in the oven and then bring it all together for Thanksgiving stuffing. The mish-mash of bread gave the stuffing more depth…but limited time, freezer space, and a husband who loves bread limits me to do this. I would recommend trying it!